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Is Self-Care Selfish?

Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Unsplash

In my experience as a therapist, I find most people are not doing much self-care. This is a problem particularly for caretakers, whether that is a mom with young kids, a middle-aged person taking care of aging parents, or a couple in the sandwich generation who are caring for both kids and parents. What I explain to my people is that the more people rely on you, the more critical it is to make room for self-care. But, people say, isn’t that selfish? Women especially worry that it’s selfish to ever focus on their own care and needs and this makes sense; women have been socialized throughout their lives to focus on caring for others rather than themselves. It feels uncomfortable or even wrong to think about saying no to others or putting ourselves first in order to make time for self-care.

If you have ever flown, you have heard the flight attendant tell you that if the oxygen masks deploy you need to put your own mask on before trying to help anyone else. Is this selfish? Well, what would happen if a dad traveling with two young children, fearful of their safety, focused on putting the children’s masks on first and then putting his own on? He might get one kid’s mask on, but what if before he could put the second mask on he began to pass out from lack of oxygen? Then both he and one of his kids have no masks when they really need them. Instead, by putting his own mask on first, something he can do quickly (whereas a young child might find a mask frightening and fight wearing it), he is then assured that he will continue to have a supply of oxygen and will be able to help his children.

The oxygen mask is a great analogy for self-care. If other people depend upon you, you must take care of yourself in order to continue caring for the others. It’s really that simple. And that means it’s not selfish at all. In fact, it’s smart and it means you are doing what you need to in order to ensure you will be able to continue caring for others. That said, it doesn’t mean everyone will understand. You might have to explain it to some people. And even then you might get push-back. Remind yourself that by caring for yourself you ensure you are able to continue caring for others. And keep in mind if you have children that by engaging in self-care you are modeling a healthy behavior for them.

Self-care doesn’t have to be big, expensive, flashy, or time-consuming. It might be as simple as savoring a cup of coffee on your patio before diving into your day. If you are unsure what self-care might look like, I wrote about this in a previous post.

Self-care may also look like taking the time to see a therapist who can help you sort out your priorities and boundaries and balance them with your needs. If you feel like you might benefit from some time with a counselor, I would love to meet with you. I invite you to call or text me at (816) 226-4678. With Saturday and evening hours, I have session times that work for most schedules.

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